Repeat after me: there is never a reason to write boring and uninspiring content.
Your goal in writing content may be to inform, but you want to share new and exciting information that will motivate people to take action of their own. By ‘actionable’ we don’t just mean leading people to make a conversion on your own site, but instead we want people to go out and try a new tool/product/method, think about changing the way they perform a certain task, or inspire a completely new creation.
If you have content that talks at someone instead of starts a conversation, repeats or summarizes what’s been said before, or gives an opinion without pushing it towards a useful tip, your content is sitting lifeless on the Internet. Luckily, there are ways to take lackluster content and make it actionable.
1. Involve your audience
A guaranteed way to make sure your readers are engaged is to include them directly in your content. Instead of merely explaining how to do something or presenting a story, make an interactive module where users can practice the skill you’re teaching, or create a moving graphic that users have to click through to keep reading.
Once you have your audience’s attention, lead them straight into the action that they can take after reading. Think of your content as a map that brings users along a path and leads them right into options of what to do once they arrive at their destination.
One excellent example is Angela Morelli’s Virtual Water project. The scrolling graphic puts the user right into an experience, and afterwards explains exactly what he or she can do to help lessen individual water intake. Not only is this a shareworthy piece of content because of the clean design and innovative technology used — it gives readers the opportunity to make an impact once they’re done scrolling.
2. Link your research to applications
Facts and figures are great and can show that you have rich meaning behind your claims, but standing alone they can be painfully dry. Don’t make your readers work too hard in having to not only absorb your research, but figure out what makes it relevant or useful to them. Clearly state why your findings should lead them to change their habits and how exactly they can do so.
Forbes often does a great job of taking complicated numbers and churning out advice for stockholders. Knowing that market volatility has been stabilizing recently is great; having Forbes tell you what this means for your investment activities is even better.
3. Look beyond your industry
Certain industries may seem less naturally inclined to foster inventive content ideas than others, but view your “boring” topic as a challenge rather than an roadblock. Keep in mind that every post you write does not have to be about the same exact theme. The key requirement is to write about what readers find interesting—and this can be a variety of similar, related subjects.
Take the Fiskar’s “Fiskateers” Blog, for instance. They do not reserve their posts for their product news and features (how many people do you know interested in the latest in scissor technology?), rather they illustrate ways in which their products can be used. Even though scrapbooking is not their trade, it’s absolutely relevant to a target audience of people who buy Fiskar scissors for such purposes. This way, step-by-step craft guides make for exceptional actionable content for their brand.
4. State the intended outcome early on
Ideally your post should be actionable all the way through. If you start off with a long stretch of content that doesn’t move people, they may click away from your page before you get to what it is they can do.
If your title or intro paragraph explicitly states what you want your reader to walk away with, they will be intrigued to read on and find out how they can accomplish this.
For example, Rand Fishkin’s White Board Friday, “Remove Unnecessary Steps & Win More Links, Shares, and Conversions” makes it obvious from the start that if you watch his video, you will learn something that can distinctly impact your bottom line. He is not just going to talk about what he’s learned from experience or studies, but how you yourself can leverage what he knows about having unnecessary steps on your site.
5. Think Ahead
Planning your editorial calendar around important events can have a positive side, yet it can also put an expiration date on your content and fail to convey a relatable message.
For instance, writing a “10 Things I Learned From [2013 Super Bowl Ads] [Last Night’s Grammy Awards] [XYZ Conference I Attended]” has potential, but not if you make it all about you and the present moment. To maximize the relevance of your post, make sure that instead of recapping what occurred, you show what people can do to copy what went well or avoid what went wrong.
Remember that your audience is not the ad agencies making the 2014 Super Bowl commercials (so on and so forth) but people in your own industry, so don’t write about takeaways that most of your readers will not be able to carry out.
Jon Cooper did a fantastic job of this in his post about the presentations in saw at BlueGlassX. He specifically chose to highlight the parts of the talks that involved tips and tools from which he knew his readers would benefit.
The most important question you can ask yourself after looking over your content: “Is there a definitive next step that people can take after reading?” If not, then your content is not actionable and therefore not helpful or inspirational. Go back through the above steps and see where you can take away unnecessary commentary or add steps that your readers can take.
Aim to write content that moves people. Get them so fired up to go out and learn more, try a new tool or method, and even write their own content.